Sunday, September 27, 2009

A different kind of ghost story

I've been wanting to read a well-written ghost story lately. So when I saw a hardback copy of Sarah Waters's latest novel, The Little Stranger, I knew I had to get it. The novel features all the elements that make a very scary read—a haunted house, a ghost of a child, an upperclass English family with secrets, and an outsider who provides a first-person narrative.

In Waters's fifth novel, we are transported to post-war England. The setting is a grand old house named Hundreds Hall, which has seen better days. The family living in Hundreds, the Ayres, belongs to the English upper class and is struggling to cope with the changes facing them. When Dr. Faraday decides to become the family physician, he becomes witness to the family's decline. Roderick, the only Ayres male heir, is eventually confined to a mental institution. Mrs Ayres, the family matriarch, is driven to suicide after supposedly experiencing hauntings by her eldest child who died of a wasting disease. Caroline, the strong-headed daughter, feels that it's up to her to keep the family together, financial difficulties and all.

The Little Stranger, however, is not your ordinary ghost story. It's supernatural element even lends an ambivalent concept to it—as if Waters wants readers to decide for themselves whether there were indeed hauntings in Hundreds. The writing is very detailed and atmospheric. But readers who are seeking to be scared out of their wits may feel disappointed with the narrative's pace. In fact, we don't get to read these scary bits within the first 100 pages or so.

And as she did that, she felt the starting up of a breeze—or, anyway, something like a breeze, a cold movement of air, which came suddenly against her, striking her cheek, disarranging her hair, making her shiver; and a second later she was shocked and jolted almost out of her skin by a violent slamming in the neighbouring room. [page 318]

The Little Stranger is shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize. People are saying that this might be the year she finally gets it, after having been shortlisted twice. It isn't your typical haunted house novel with a Gothic feel to it. The hauntings only provide a backdrop to what really is the center of the novel—a family's failure to hang on to its place in society.

Read this book if:
  1. You enjoy all things Booker.
  2. You've always wondered what it's like to live in a haunted house.
  3. Like me, you don't believe in ghosts, but enjoy a satisfying ghost story.

30 comments:

Amanda said...

I really need to read something by Sarah Waters but I havne't yet. I have both Fingersmith and Affinity on my shelf.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Amanda! I've been looking for those. I just bought a secondhand hardback of Night Watch last month.

Tina said...

I'm really looking forward to this now that I've read your review. I'm not normally into ghosts, but I love Sarah Waters. Great review.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Tina! Thanks for dropping by again.

This is the first novel of Sarah Waters that I've read. And I'm now a big fan!

mental wayfarer said...

Great review, Peter. The more i read your blogs, the higher my TBR pile gets...

Peter S. said...

Hello, Ajie! I can say the same when I visit your blog. Although, I've realized that I'm never going to read all of the books reviewed by the bloggers I visit.

Ryan G said...

I have never read one of her books but this one does sound good. I may have to look for it next time I'm at the store.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Ryan! This is the first Sarah Waters novel that I've read, and I hugely enjoyed it. I'll also be looking for her other books.

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I love ghost stories, and have heard great things about this author, but confess waiting 318 pages for the scarey stuff to happen might be a bit of a wait for me.

Peter S. said...

@A Buckeye Girl Reads: Oh, that was just an expert. The scary stuff begins at around 100 pages or so. Believe me, it's worth the wait.

Something's Dishy said...

I've read all her novels except this new one, the Little Stranger. Fingersmith is the best. You should read it.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Something's Dishy! Thanks for the tip. I'll definitely check out that one.

Something's Dishy said...

Hi Peter, Yes I'm reading the Knife of Never Letting Go because I read about it on your blog. I enjoyed the Hunger Games a lot and was looking for another YA novel. It's good so far...

Cynewyn said...

Great review, Peter - I'm searching Amazon as we speak! :-) It's great to have found a blog full of intelligent reviews and lovely book-lovers! Best wishes,
Lucy-Jane (aka Cynewyn)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Mrs. B! The second novel, The Ask and the Answer, is a good YA read too!

Hi, Lucy-Jane! Thanks for dropping by again! I do hope you get to read this one. It's very satisfying!

Ceri said...

This sounds really good. Great review, Peter. I love ghost stories and am always on the lookout for more. :-D

Cynewyn said...

I'm looking forward to reading your review of Pride & Prejudice! ;-) L-J

StephanieD said...

October's almost here and I can't wait to dive into ghostly, scary, gothic novels. I wet my toes a little with Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle - which I see you liked.

This one seems to fit the bill as well. I'll check it out.

Vivienne said...

I am desperate to read this book!

Peter S. said...

@Ceri: Thanks! I guess a lot of people love ghost stories.

@Cynewyn: I'm finding it difficult to finish it!

@StephanieD: Oh yeah! I can't believe it's almost October.

@Viviene: The book's very good.

Diane said...

Awesome review Peter. I do want to read this one. Thanks

Peter said...

Hello, Diane! You're welcome. I hope you post your review on this novel too!

stacybuckeye said...

I really need to get my hands on this one. Sounds like a perfect Halloween read.

Peter said...

Hi, Stacy! It is. Although you might get disappointed with the scary bits, as they are few and far between.

B. D. Eastman said...

"I think you'd be interested in a cool contest going on at my blog. The Grand Prize is the first and second book of Hunter Brown."

Peter said...

Hello, B.D. Eastman! Thanks. I'll check out your blog for the contest.

bookjourney said...

Peter I think you are on a roll.... this one sounds awesome as well. Rainy and cold in central Minnesota these days - yes I could use a good ghost story.

Peter said...

Hi, Sheila! I think this is the perfect book to read during that kind of weather.

theliterarystew said...

Hey Peter, Just saw your post for this...hope you read this comment. Where'd you get this book? Have been looking for it but it doesn't seem to be available in Manila. Do you know if the paperback is available?

Evanescence said...

I have to say your version has a nicer cover than the UK one! Although, the UK one is in similar style to the previous Sarah Waters novel.